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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2043


Senator SIBRAA —On behalf of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, I present a report on the regional conflict and super-power rivalry in the Horn of Africa, dated April 1984.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Senator SIBRAA —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This is the last report prepared for the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence by the Sub-Committee on Middle Eastern and African Affairs, of which I was Chairman. This report on regional conflict and super-power rivalry in the Horn of Africa is additional to the report on the provision of development assistance and humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa which I tabled in the Senate at the end of last year. A report on some observations on Australia's diplomatic representation in Africa was also tabled at the end of last year. It touches on the Horn of Africa region, especially in relation to the question of diplomatic representation in Ethiopia.

This report is a comprehensive account of the regional conflicts and the involvement of the outside powers in the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa is a very complex area in terms of ethnic composition, politics and outside involvement. The two major regional conflicts involve, firstly, the fight for independence by the Eritreans from Ethiopia and, secondly, the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia over the ethnic Somali populated Ogaden region of Ethiopia. In addition there are a number of other smaller conflicts. There is opposition to the central Ethiopian Government in Tigray province and in areas populated by the Oromo ethnic group. There is armed opposition to the Somali Government based in the Ogaden. There is also uncertainty regarding the ethnic Somali populated areas of northern Kenya. In addition, the revolt in southern Sudan has implications for Ethiopia, because many southern Sudanese have become refugees in northern Ethiopia. For its part, Sudan hosts numerous refugees from the conflicts inside Ethiopia. Djibouti is not excluded from the local conflicts, hosting as it does some thousands of refugees and political exiles from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Adjacent countries in the region are involved in the troubles. Libya is accused by the Sudan of complicity with Ethiopia in causing unrest and sabotage in southern Sudan. Arab countries have been accused of aiding and hosting delegations of the Eritrean liberation movement. Kenya feels obliged to maintain its defence agreement with Ethiopia, despite ideological differences, for fear of Somali expansion. The differences between Moslem Somalia and Ethiopia, and between the Moslem and Christian populations in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and to a lesser extent Djibouti, are always apparent. The report provides the background to these issues and explains the current status of regional conflict and super- power intervention in the Horn of Africa.

Most of the submissions made to the Sub-Committee addressed the issue of the Eritrean fight for independence from Ethiopia. The Sub-Committee was very careful to make the most impartial appraisal possible of this issue. The history of the Eritrean region, the period of Italian colonisation and of British administration, the role of the United Nations, and Ethiopia's conduct are all carefully documented. It is clear from the information available to the Committee that history, especially recent history, has not been kind to the Eritrean people. It is also clear that the Ethiopeans are adamant that they will not relinquish their claim to Eritrea. A peaceful solution therefore does not appear possible.

The short history of Eritrea since the end of the Second World War is as follows: The British administration took over the Italian colony in 1941. The matter of Eritrea's future was referred to the UN after the war, after a four- power commission consisting of the United States, France, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union failed to agree on its future. The UN finally decided that Eritrea should become an autonomous state federated with Ethiopia, with special rights to raise taxes, appoint cabinets and government officials. In addition, a democratic system of government was clearly envisaged in the written documents. In 1962 the 'Federal' arrangement was abrogated and Eritrea was incorporated within Ethiopia. This happened despite the clear requirements of UN Resolution 390A (V) of 1950. The UN has not since addressed this violation of Resolution 390A (V) of 1950.

Despite the strong legal and moral arguments advanced by the Eritreans to support their case that Ethiopia has contravened a resolution of the UN, Ethiopia remains unmoved in its resolve to maintain the incorporation of Eritrea as an integral part of Ethiopia. The reality is therefore that Ethiopia will not accept any possibility of Eritrean independence or give the region any special status as foreseen by the UN, whose original proclamation is seen as serving the interests of the imperialists at the time. African opinion sides with Ethiopia on the issue. The reason is that frontiers in Africa are regarded as sacrosanct. Many observers claim that because of the polyglot nature of many African states any granting of independence to rebel movements inside one African country would have a demonstration effect throughout the rest of Africa. Many African countries are said to be familiar with the problems the central Ethiopian Government has.

Given the overwhelming support Ethiopia has in Africa on this issue, and the special place Ethiopia enjoys in Africa because of its long history of independence, any intervention by a non-African country at the behest of Eritrean nationalists would be met with disapproval in international forums. It is significant that the French Socialist Party, which had a policy of support for the Eritreans prior to coming to office, has now, after the expulsion of some French diplomats after the matter was raised, declined to press the issue further.

The report is in the form of a background paper and stops short of making recommendations and conclusions on the Eritrean issue and the other issues discussed in the report. To some extent, this form of report is therefore breaking new ground for the Joint Committee. It is hoped that it will contribute to a better and wider understanding of a little known or understood region. Although the Horn is geographically remote from Australia, events there are of some significance for us. The Horn's primary significance is in the fact that it is proximate to the oil producing areas of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. It is also adjacent to the transport routes to and from the oil producing areas. Bases in the Horn allow the projection of naval power into the Indian Ocean. It is because of this that the super-power competition so apparent in the Middle East and South West Asia has spilled over to the Horn of Africa.

There is not enough time for me to detail the report's contents on these matters, but two themes come through very clearly. Firstly, any temporary advantage or foothold gained by a super-power in any country from time to time is likely to be tenuous and uncertain. Prior to 1977 the Soviet Union seemed entrenched in Somalia, while prior to 1974 the United States enjoyed good relations with Ethiopia and was a major supplier of aid and military hardware. At the end of 1977, Somalia turned away from the Soviets and sought assistance from the United States, other Western countries and the conservative Arab states . Ethiopia, in turn, became dependent on the Soviet bloc and Cuba for military hardware and troops.

Another feature of outside involvement has been the independence of action maintained by the host countries, despite the wishes of the outside powers. Somalia's support of Ogaden rebels and its ultimate entry into the Ogaden in 1977-78 was against Soviet wishes. On the other hand, the prosecution of Ethiopia's war against the Eritreans was initially done in a way which displeased the Soviets, who counselled a peaceful solution. In addition, Ethiopia has made very slow progress in establishing a 'civilian' Marxist political party. Other examples abound, and there is much to be learned of the mode of operation and the limitations of Soviet influence, which might have application to our knowledge of Soviet conduct elsewhere in the Third World.

As I mentioned before, the report is a background paper and does not contain recommendations and conclusions in the normal way. On the other hand, it is analytical, and must therefore contain some bias. If it were to be otherwise, it would merely be a bland catalogue of uninterpreted factual information. Other matters which the report analyses, and which I have not yet referred to, include the relations of the Horn countries with their neighbours including the Organisation of African Unity countries, and a history of recent internal political developments in Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. Because of the analytical nature of the report, the Committee would be grateful if the Government would make a response in the usual way. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) has been good enough to provide comprehensive responses to previous reports of the Committee, and the Committee would be pleased to receive some feedback on this report.

The Committee did allow itself to make one specific suggestion to the Government, in a report that is otherwise a background paper, and it arises out of many submissions made to it relating to Ethiopian conduct of its war again Eritrean nationalists. It is that:

There seems to be sufficient substance in the allegations about human rights violations in Eritrea to warrant Australia seeking an official explanation from the Ethiopian Government. The Committee considers that the Australian Government should seek to ascertain the truth of the allegations.

Mr Deputy President, I certainly support that recommendation and I commend the report to the Senate.